Legal Aid for Immigrant Children

Joseph Smooke, Dyan Ruiz | 09/23/2014

San Francisco Supervisor proposes legislation to provide immigrant children with legal aid as thousands face fast-track immigration.


Dyan Ruiz, Reporter, [people. power. media]: On September 10, 2014, San Francisco Board of Supervisor David Campos proposed an ordinance that would appropriate funding for legal representation for children and their families with fast-tracked deportation cases. The $2.4 million dollars over two years will go towards helping children in the over 800 juvenile cases filed so far this year in San Francisco.  

David Campos, SF Supervisor, District 9: We in San Francisco are going to set an example of how we as a country are going to deal with this issue. A society that turns its backs on children is not a society I want to live in. We believe it is appropriate for San Francisco to make sure that those kids that reside in our city that they are given basic legal representation. [Cheers]

Ruiz: The surge in deportation cases involving children has mirrored the sudden rise nationally. Over 60,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by federal authorities so far this year, a number that is almost for times greater than in Fiscal Year 2010/2011. After they are apprehended the government tries to place the children with relatives or friends in the US, and are assigned to a local Immigration Court. These courts were directed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in July 2014 to expedite the processing of juvenile cases. Known as the “Rocket Docket”, courts are now hearing up to 50 cases per day.

Walter and his brother are two of the children facing deportation.

Walter Garcia, Undocumented Immigrant: Good morning. My name is Walter. I am from Guatemala. I am 12-years-old. I’m coming here today to ask you for a favor. We need more lawyers because immigrant lawyers like us- many of us do not have a lawyer. I have court. My court date is on the 17th and I still don’t have a lawyer. Thank you.

Ruiz: A study by Syracuse University found that minors without legal representation were ordered deported in 9 out of 10 cases nationally, while the court allowed the children to stay in the US in almost half the cases with good representation by an attorney. Children may be granted permanent residence if they have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents, have they have or will suffer persecution or been victims of certain crimes such as human trafficking. Many children are fleeing countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador because of the rampant gang violence.

John Avalos, SF Supervisor, District 11: They’ve take a great act of courage and liberation to be hear in this country and we have to honor that.

Abigail Trillin, Executive Director, Legal Services for Children: These are incredibly intense hard cases. And they’re cases involving children who have experienced extreme trauma. Physical abuse, sexual violence, being threatened, “Join a gang or you will die,” and watching friends and family have that threat come through. Because of that, because of the trauma that these kids have experienced, these cases need to be handled with extreme care. 

Ruiz: Later that day, the Budget Committee voted unanimously to approve the proposal and now it must go before the full 11-member Board of Supervisors. 

Norman Yee, SF Supervisor, District 7: We will on the Board pass this allocation. I’m positive that we’re going to be able to do that. In fact, I feel confident that we’ll get 11 votes out of this.